While the Air is Ours - SATB and piano
When George Floyd was slain May 25, 2020, the horrific killing sparked a response heard in all corners of the world. In working through the grief and sadness of this tragedy, I strongly felt the pull to respond artistically - but struggled with how to do that. I constantly asked myself if it is even appropriate that I, as a privileged white person, compose a piece of music in response to racial injustice. I then came across Jorge Guillen's "While the Air is Ours." The glorious gift of breath Guillen speaks about in this text belongs to ALL of us. As I read the poetry, George Floyd's final words "I can't breathe" came roaring into my conciousness. This is a stark contrast to the poetry, which begins "I breathe, and the air in my lungs is ... love and joy." That disparity invoked many questions about this concept of "breath." Don't we all deserve this gift of breath? Who are we to take the breath of others? Is the breath given to us simply for living, or do we have a higher calling? As a white person, I can acknowledge my privilege and use my breath so that the world becomes a more just and equitable place. My partner Aleisha and I added the final stanza of text as a challenge for all of us to do whatever we possibly can so that all may have breath.
I breathe and the air in my lungs is knowledge now, and love, and joy, an embodied joy that reveals itself to me only as a cleaving—so elemental that it never breaks off—to the great succession of instants in which I continue to breathe, embracing a part of the enormous airy clarity.
To live, to live, to seize from the rhythm of life all this world that the air displays and—God knows how—that pre-existing beyond which raises its gifts to the plateau of the ages for me because I breathe, I breathe from moment to moment, in perfect contact with that reality which sustains me, lifts me up and through stupendous equilibria leaves me overcome, astonished, obedient.
We all breathe. We all have breath to give.
Let us use our breath so that others may breathe. We all breathe.